Lifelong Learning: What I’ve Learned – February 2017

One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last month is how hard it is to actually think about…and put into words…what one has actually learned since a fixed point in time.  Of all the posts, this one is by far the hardest to write, and I’ve taken quite a bit of time actually reflecting on the last month and the experiences that I’ve had.  However, I find it difficult to articulate the learning that has taken place.  I know that it has occurred; I’m just having trouble defining and quantifying it.  I imagine this is very similar to what our students experience when we survey them and ask them what they have learned in a particular course.

First, let me begin with a caveat.  In some instances, I’m not sure that I’ve actually learned something new.  It may be that I have been freshly re-introduced to something that I’ve known but have forgotten.  I believe this is the case with Robert Talbert’s blog.  I first found Dr. Talbert at Casting Out Nines at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  He wrote several linked posts about his experiences with flipped classroom teaching, and I read every one (even though he taught math, and I had no idea what he was talking about regarding the math terms and examples).  I knew that his blog time with the Chronicle was ending, but I didn’t take the time to find his new blog spot until a few weeks ago.  I started at the beginning and “caught up” on his posts, and one of these struck me as very significant.  It made me realize that unconsciously, I sometimes fall into the habit of forgetting that my students are not like me and that they are all human beings who are sometimes just struggling to get by.  I know this!  But, I also forget it sometimes in my frustration.  Reading Talbert’s post refreshed me, and I need to remember to re-read it more often.

Along those same lines, I saw/overheard/stumbled upon a vague comment somewhere.  I didn’t pay it any attention at the time, which is probably why I can’t even remember where I saw it or what it was.  However, I’ve often complained, and have heard others complain, about students not reading the syllabus.  The rant usually begins with someone (usually me) telling a story of a student who asked a question that appears silly or ridiculous because the information is clearly IN THE SYLLABUS!  But now I see this situation in a new light.  What I saw was something to this effect – when was the last time you read the instruction manual for anything you purchased?  This stopped me dead in my tracks.  I’m a reader.  I read directions when I assemble items.  But I don’t read warranties or any of the other manual legalese.  How does this make me any different from my students?  I’m quite sure they often see our syllabi the same way I see the tiny printed document that comes with every gadget I purchase.

And finally, I’m not sure that this qualifies as something I’ve learned, but it is definitely something that I’ve started paying attention to recently and am in the process of exploring further.  Upon reflecting on last semester, I realized that I had one of my best classes.  I began to ponder what made it so special.  Was it the students?  Was it something I had done?  Could I replicate it?  What I landed on was that for most of the classes, I sat with my students, on their level, and we talked about the content and issues of the course.  When I was asked to present a critical thinking workshop for the KEY Center last week for their Lunch and Learn discussion, I decided to test my theory.  Instead of a PowerPoint, I had a handout.  I sat at the table with the students and had my submarine sandwich which the KEY Center provided.  Before we ate, we analyzed and disassembled the sub (figuratively speaking) to see what made a sub a sub.  We added and deleted various elements until we landed on what the students decided was the determining factor.  And then we ate our lunch and discussed what critical thinking consisted of and how they could apply it in their classes.  I think that it was a much better session than any others that I’ve done with students.  As a result, I’ve been observing the presenters and facilitators at the various meetings I’ve attended since that time.  So far, my data indicates that I have a better experience in the sessions where the facilitator sits at the table with the members and is an active part of the group.  I’m wondering if our students feel the same or if it’s just me.

Even if I hadn’t learned anything this month, I think I learned that the mere act of reflecting occasionally on my experiences teaches me something.  What have you learned recently?

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